The LEICA M Photographer: Photographing with Leica’s Legendary Rangefinder Cameras (2015)
Chapter 10. Clothes Make the Person
How to Present Your Work
You have shot a sequence of images, made a selection from the results, and now you want to present your work to an eager public.
The reason Leica packs its new cameras in high-end wooden boxes is to increase the perceived value of the device contained within. You should do the same with your precious images: the more sumptuous the “packaging” the better they are likely to be received.
I am frequently asked to review other photographer’s portfolios and to offer comments on the appearance of the individual images as well as on the method of the presentation. I am often astonished by how photographers approach the task of presenting their work. Some start apologizing before I have seen a single image, thus making it clear from the start that they haven’t achieved what they set out to do. This kind of attitude produces a negative vibe that definitely doesn’t improve the situation.
Others carry their photos or portfolios in a plastic bag from a discount supermarket, which immediately infers that the work itself is junk, even when this is not actually the case.
Another way to get your viewer to lose interest is to use a notebook computer and click your way through to the “Portfolio” folder stored in the “Stories” folder stored in the “This Year’s Photos” folder, only to find that the viewing software you installed doesn’t work. The final straw is asking the person you are trying to impress if they know how to get your computer to work.
These are all real-world scenarios that I have experienced, and they prove beyond all doubt that even world-class images don’t stand a chance if you don’t present them appropriately. But that’s enough negative press. How should you go about doing things right?
There is, of course, no single “right” solution and the first thing you need to do is identify whom you are targeting. Do you just want to show your images to someone who will give you advice, or are you on the lookout for a potential buyer or client? If the person you are talking to is an imaging professional, you must prepare for the meeting differently than if you are showing your images to a friend or neighbor.
Let’s Look at Some Options
If you are showing prints, make sure none are smaller than 5“ x 7“. Unless you are advanced at printing images, always get your prints made at a professional lab, not at the drugstore. The only time you can use low-grade prints is if you are planning a book or an exhibition, but I will go into more detail on that scenario later on.
Once you have selected a lab, test different paper types as well as sizes. Baryta papers often give black-and-white images extra punch, while glossy paper can add vibrancy to color images. If you present your images in individual sleeves in a portfolio, you don’t have to worry about fingerprints. If, however, you prefer to present your images loose in a presentation box, you should provide cotton gloves for your viewers or have your prints made on non-glossy paper. Remember, too, that different paper qualities have varying effects on the people handling them.
You can buy ready-made portfolio cases and boxes from most well-stocked photo dealers or you can have a custom case made by a bookbinder.
A computer is an obvious choice when it comes to presenting photos. You can use a notebook, a tablet, or a smartphone, depending on whom you are presenting to. Even if a smartphone isn’t the ideal format for showing a story to an editorial team, it is always better to be able to show your photos in some form should the opportunity arise unexpectedly.
A notebook computer is a good choice as long as you know how to start a slideshow presentation using just a few clicks. If you have to fumble around with folders and operating systems, you will quickly lose your viewer’s interest.
Tablet computers still exert a strong fascination for many people. If you have a high-end tablet, letting people swipe and pinch their way through your images is a fun way to get them involved in your work. Here too, you need top-notch software for this approach to be effective. And by the way, the Lightroom Printer menu includes options for adding borders, which can give portfolio images extra presence. Try to be as creative as possible in your presentations as well as in your everyday work.
Photo books are a surprisingly cheap and increasingly popular way to present photos. Most photo book services have their own user-friendly software that allows you to put together a book for individual or serial printing. You can build a book using your own graphics software as long as the service you use supports the format you produce.
Have you ever thought about putting on an exhibition but you didn’t know whom to approach? It doesn’t have to be a museum, since many cafés, bars, and doctor’s offices put up temporary exhibitions and are happy to show work produced by locals. If I am planning an exhibition, I often make cheap drugstore prints of the images I have selected to check the effect they have when presented together. Shuffling a set of prints around on a tabletop is much easier than trying to judge their effect on a computer screen. I always carry a selection of postcards with my information on the front and at least five of my current images printed on the backs. I let the person I am talking to choose their favorite, thus giving them the opportunity to see some of my pictures and take away a small, high-quality gift. The person sees all five choices and then selects their favorite, thus I am provided with direct feedback on my work. An obvious bonus is that my card serves as a reminder of who I am and what I do.
A web presence is essential for anyone who wants to earn money from taking photographs—if you cannot be found on the Internet, you simply don’t exist as a photographer. Unfortunately, many pros have not yet adapted to this aspect of modern marketing.
I update my website regularly and link the latest version to my Facebook and XING (a European social network for professionals similar to LinkedIn in the U.S.) profiles. I also upload small, low-res copies of my images to Facebook as a kind of running diary of my work.
I no longer use a physical portfolio because it simply involves too much effort. Nowadays, I use photo books to present my work to editorial teams and potential clients. This is a quick and relatively cheap way to produce a custom portfolio that you can give away at the end of the meeting. Many people are reluctant to throw away a book, so this approach often creates a lasting impression.
Remember: Creativity is key to every aspect of your work and should be part of your thought process from the initial concept up to the moment you present your images.